Battling the bland
Anne-Louise Foley caught up with La Rocca, arguably the second hardest working band in Dublin as they try to break onto an FM band full to capacity with "shite".
Alan Redmond is annoyed. The La Rocca drummer, like many others in this country, is despairing at the absence of a decent radio station. "It's a fucking disgrace. You turn on the radio and you hear 'Ghostbusters', followed by 'Take My Breath Away'. If you turn it on in the morning, you'll hear some imbecile reading the little side bits out of Page 7 of the Sun and his sidekick chuckling away." Bass player Simon Baillie isn't impressed either. "There's so much talent in places like Dublin and Galway and playing it for two hours every night isn't enough. And besides, even Dave Fanning is quite strictly playlisted. I don't know who's going to do what Uaneen was doing. That's a real void now."
The fact that Star FM, a country station, was given a license above Phantom tops it off and the lads have set up an online petition to show their disgust. "Effectively, Star FM getting it is saying that the music of Dominic Kerwin and Daniel O Donnell is more important to this country than U2 or The Cranberries or whatever, which is a load of bollocks"
The La Rocca boys: Dublin born Alan, brothers Simon and Bjorn Baillie and Nick Haworth from Burnley, England, are just back from their appearance at South By Southwest, an annual music festival in Texas, where the likes of Badly Drawn Boy and Gomez have appeared. "The A&R heads all go there and it's a real place where deals can be done," says Simon. "A lot of these things can be free bars for a week and a lot of record industry people complementing themselves and getting drunk but this one has a really solid reputation," says Alan. "It would've been really easy for us to go over there and have a holiday, but we worked our arses off."
The band intend to go back to the States which they reckon "is looking very good at the moment" and are in the process of trying to locate US management "you're wasting your time unless you have representation over there," says Alan.
It's been a busy year for La Rocca. If The Frames are the hardest working band in Dublin, then La Rocca must surely be the second. Their name seems to pop up on posters every weekend. Their first single, 'Dependence Theme' charted at 51, which doesn't sound like much until you realise that they released it themselves with minimal PR or airplay. The single, which incidentally is "miraculously hard to get your hands on now", was high energy, melody laden soul candy, complete with twinkly keyboard (Nick) and raspy vocals (Bjorn). Many thought it sounded like The Manics in their heyday, though this surprises the lads.
"In nine out of ten cases, the band they compare you to is a band whose records you don't even own." Their manifesto is clear: to make real music. "Music that has energy and life in it," explains Alan. As opposed to Travis, who are playing in the background of the IFC bar. "They're the greatest dirge ever," he says, "The new album's called 'The Invisible Man' and it couldn't be more fucking true. They're the best paid buskers in the world."
The lads don't have any more regard for other indie mainstreamists, Coldplay or The Stereophonics. "They're not pushing their limits and have become more and more bland. The mentality is, if the formula works… We've changed in the last six months. It's about making the record company sweat, doing different stuff. We just want to make music that kids will copy in their bedrooms." Or as Simon puts it, "The public want to see a band sweat for their coppers."
La Rocca were formed two years ago at Cardiff University and their name comes from a club where they used to work as students. They studied different things: Alan: Italian and English, Bjorn: Journalism, Nick: Sociology and Simon: graphic design (he does the arty stuff on the CD sleeves). "We didn't really feel at home in Wales. We had a great time there but we never considered it home," says Alan. "I think we suffered a mild form of resentment from some sections of Welsh music, we call it the taffia, who we rubbed up the wrong way.
"In Cardiff, to be a popular band you've got to have less than 10 fans and half of them have got to walk out before your first song. We were pulling two or three hundred people to gigs and they (the taffia) thought we were way too commercial." That wasn't all that annoyed them about Wales. "Bands like Catatonia and The Super Furry Animals were getting playlisted on Radio One and yet they weren't getting played in Wales, despite being a great source of national pride."
On coming home they noted the same trend. "Ireland is one of those places where you have to make it outside to get recognised. JJ72 still can't get airplay in Ireland, though every single is playlisted on Radio One in England, and you'll probably even find Radio Nottingham playlisting them, y'know? And they still can't get played on mainstream radio in Ireland. It's not even a case of not helping emerging bands, it's bands who have already sold a quarter of a million albums in the UK and Ireland and have had sell-out tours in Europe. You can't help wondering how big a band like The Frames would be if they'd had the support."
And it all comes back to the radio issue, which Alan reckons is a lost cause. "Radio in Ireland is shite and it will always be shite and I'll tell you why: It's because there's no room left on the FM band, which means we're stuck with the absolute pile of shit we have at the moment."
On a more positive note, La Rocca are working on their EP which is due out in mid-July and they plan to release it themselves. After that, says Alan, "It's tour, tour, tour, tour, release, tour, tour!"
by Anne-Louise Foley